NEW YORK — The masterpieces of the Museum of Modern Art are now in Queens.
“The space here has a certain ‘rawness’ that makes the art come off the walls in a potent way,” museum director Glenn Lowry said Wednesday, as he inaugurated MoMA’s temporary move to a former Swingline staple factory.
Pablo Picasso could not have imagined when he painted his groundbreaking “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in 1907 that this icon of cubism would end up across the street from a Queens envelope warehouse and down the street from a Dominican diner.
The museum, which first opened its doors 72 years ago, was forced to move from its midtown Manhattan address on West 53rd Street for a $650 million expansion project. The site will be closed through 2005.
MoMAQNS — the name of the bright blue converted staple factory — officially opens to the public on Saturday.
In this industrial Queens neighborhood, the museum’s stark white walls and 21-foot black ceiling frame cavernous, odd-shaped galleries, with a white metal ramp leading to the gift shop.
It seems the perfect space for a green 1950s Jeep — part of an exhibit called “AUTObodies” that also includes a 1990 Formula 1 Ferrari.
“Tempo,” featuring contemporary art from around the world, examines time in everything from clocks to watches and metronomes. A DVD creation shows a couple locked in a long, slow kiss that seems to defy time.
But MoMA’s reputation rests on the truly timeless treasures of modern art, many of them now gracing a series of new galleries with a cracked concrete floor and the sign “To Be Looked At.”
Museum officials want to make sure their famous works really do get seen — even at a location that would not normally draw Manhattanites or tourists.
Last Sunday, one attention-grabber was a procession of reproductions of famous MoMA works from Manhattan across the Queensborough Bridge to MoMAQNS on 33rd Street in Queens. The art was enhanced with Peruvian music and brightly colored costumes.
The real works are now in place — part of MoMAs collection of more than 100,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, architectural models and drawings. MoMA also owns about 14,000 films, and 140,000 books and periodicals.
In Queens, Picasso’s “Demoiselles” hangs near Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 “Starry Night” and “Dance” — Matisse’s mammoth 1909 painting of five female nudes.
MoMAQNS remains as audacious — and provocative — as its Manhattan parent.
In a gallery close to the masterpieces, a man’s leg protrudes through a wall, in shoes and a pant leg. It seems all too real. This, too, is MoMA’s art, an untitled 1991 work by American Robert Gober, who made it with cotton, wood and steel — and real human hair on the wax “skin” just under the cuff.
“There are relationships that normally occur in museums, where collections are organized well,” said Lowry, the director. “Here, it’s a little looser — and it works. In here, some of that shocking power of art gets refreshed.”